WASHINGTON — The senior U.S. envoy for Haiti policy said Thursday that he had resigned over the “inhumane” and “counterproductive” deportations of Haitian migrants to a desperate country reeling from a political crisis and a deadly earthquake last month — a decision that has divided some of President’s Joe Biden’s close advisers.
The diplomat, Daniel Foote, was appointed special envoy to Haiti in July, just weeks after President Jovenel Moïse was killed in his bedroom during a nighttime raid on his residence.
Thousands of Haitians have flocked to the Texas border, particularly in the past week, where they have crossed the Rio Grande into the United States and been confronted by Border Patrol agents on horseback before being deported.
Images of horse-mounted agents chasing Haitians have prompted outrage over the treatment of the migrants. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said that the horse patrol unit in Del Rio, Texas, had been temporarily suspended and that the agents’ actions were being investigated. Border Patrol agents have ridden horses to enforce security since the agency was created in 1924.
“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life,” Foote wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a resignation letter dated Wednesday.
Foote also blasted a “cycle of international political interventions in Haiti” that “has consistently produced catastrophic results,” and he warned that the number of desperate people traveling to U.S. borders “will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”
Foote, a career diplomat who had previously served as ambassador to Zambia and acting assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, confirmed the authenticity of his resignation letter Thursday. It was reported earlier Thursday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and “PBS NewsHour.”
In the past two months, after the assassination of Moïse, an earthquake and flash floods have killed more than 2,000 Haitians and left many more injured and displaced. That has only added to the toll that poverty, hunger and increasing violence already exact on the country.
Many of the Haitians who arrived at the U.S. border over the past week had traveled for months from Brazil and Chile, where they had been allowed to live and work after an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Many of them are expected to be deported.
More than 2,000 Haitians have been deported in the past week, with more flights scheduled, and thousands have been allowed into the country, according to an official familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to publicly discuss the matter. As of Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said that about 4,000 migrants, most of them Haitian, were being held in a temporary staging area under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas as agents process them.
The rise in Haitian migration began in the months after Biden reversed some of President Donald Trump’s strictest immigration policies and projected a more welcoming tone toward migrants.
But so far in his presidency, Biden has struggled to balance tough measures to secure the southwestern border against his campaign promise to show compassion to migrants who want to come to the United States for a better life. That has led to a divide among some top aides, including Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser, who support measures that serve as immigration deterrents, and progressives who are trying to hold him to his pledge of delivering a humane system.
In May, the Biden administration extended temporary protected status for 150,000 Haitians already living in the United States. Two months later, the order was extended again for Haitians who were in the United States before July 29.
But tens of thousands more Haitians have tried to cross into the United States since then, despite not qualifying for the program. Facing the highest level of border crossings in decades, the Biden administration has stepped up enforcement of policies intended to slow their entry.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki described officials as “horrified” by the images of Haitians being confronted by border agents on horseback and said the president was working to develop a “humane” immigration system.
“But we’ve also reiterated that it is our objective to continue to implement what is law and what our laws are, and that includes border restrictions,” Psaki said.
Thousands of other Haitian migrants, however, have been allowed to enter the United States and will wait for their cases to go through the backlogged immigration court system.
Foote said in his resignation letter that his recommendations were “ignored and dismissed.”
“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed,” he wrote.
In response, the State Department’s spokesperson, Ned Price, said that some proposals for dealing with Haiti’s compounding instability over the summer were rejected, and were “even harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti.”
“No ideas are ignored, but not all ideas are good ideas,” Price said. He did not elaborate.
The Biden administration’s approach to Haiti was somewhat unusual, said Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., in that Foote was appointed as special envoy to the nation even though a Senate-confirmed ambassador already had been serving there. The ambassador, Michele J. Sison, was nominated in April for a senior job at the department’s headquarters in Washington, but her confirmation has been stalled.
Levin, a chairperson of the House Haiti Caucus, said the Biden administration was “propping up” the government of Ariel Henry, Haiti’s acting prime minister, who was accused last week of being linked to Moïse’s assassination. Henry swiftly removed the country’s chief prosecutor, who had leveled the accusation, setting off a power struggle among political factions as Haitians struggle to survive. Henry has denied any connection to the murder.
Levin said the Biden administration had fallen far short of helping empower civil society, religious leaders and human rights groups in Haiti that oppose Henry’s government or have otherwise demanded reforms.
“The Haitian people are crying out for the opportunity to chart their own country’s future, and the United States is ignoring their pleas,” Levin told reporters Thursday.
In a phone call with Henry on Monday, Blinken said he appreciated the Haitian government’s help in receiving the deported migrants but also pressed for a full investigation into Moïse’s killing.
In a statement, the State Department said it was committed to working with the Haitian government and others to strengthen democracy, the rule of law, economic growth, security and the protection of human rights.
The department said the United States and the United Nations’ immigration agency were trying to ensure that Haitians who are deported receive a meal, a hygiene kit and $100 when they land in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.
The statement also thanked Foote for his service.